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(Anemone virginiana)

by Greg Vaclavek

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)

Habitat and Distribution: Open woods, thickets, fields. Tolerates a variety of soils, moisture gradients, and light conditions. Common throughout Eastern North America, from South Carolina to Arkansas, and New Brunswick to Alberta.

Description: Thimbleweed is a perennial plant, one to three feet tall, with a fine-textured root system and small leaves. When young, the leaves resemble culinary parsley. Early in the year, the mature thimbleweed produces three-parted, finely toothed 3-inch basal leaves.

The earliest sign of the flowers begins in late spring with the development of a hairy, erect stalk topped with a whorl of three leaves. From the center of this whorl, one to three flowering stalks emerge, each topped with a single flower. Thimbleweed flowers are white to greenish white, five-petaled, and about ½ to ¾ inch wide.

As the petals begin to fade and drop, the center of each flower enlarges to form the plant’s namesake “thimble.” One of the most interesting features of the plant, the thimble contains the plant’s developing seed and is ¾ to 1 inch long, about the size of a “pinky” finger. In late fall when the seed is ripe, the thimble breaks apart, releasing the cottony fluff bound inside. The round, flat, 1/8-inch seeds embedded in the fluff take flight in the wind, giving this common plant a wide dispersal.

Thimbleweed can be distinguished from its close relative, long-fruited anemone, Anemone cylindrica, by its shorter thimble, less deeply cut leaves, and earlier seeding time.

Observations: In late fall and winter, thimbleweed is a joy to see. The cottony tufts are easy to spot amidst the gray and brown of the winter landscape.

The fluff, with a texture like fine wool, feels good in the hand and soft against the cheek. Although I was unable to find any references to utilitarian or medicinal uses, I imagine that thimbleweed fluff has been used by resourceful humans in the past. The fluff is soft, absorbent and resistant to matting. I have a dream of someday growing a field of thimbleweed, which I could harvest annually, to make clothing or use as stuffing for my pillow. But for now, I am satisfied with picking an occasional tuft to play with on an autumn walk through the woods.

In the home landscape, thimbleweed is an excellent accent to natural prairie and woodland gardens. Interspersed with other wildflowers or in small group plantings, clumps of lower leaves can offer a fine texture in the spring. White flowers in the summer add a subtle beauty to your flower beds and natural areas.

Greg Vaclavek is co-owner of the Native Plant Nursery in Ann Arbor, as well as Conservation Crew Leader at Natural Area Preservation.

Article reprinted from the Fall 1998 issue of the Ann Arbor Wild Ones Newsletter.
Copyright © 1998 Wild Ones–Natural Landscapers, Ltd.


For more information...

...and photos of thimbleweed, see the following web sites:


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